Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Extra! Extra! Arizona Education Network – Covert Front Operation...Really?

Some interesting things have happened since we released our legislative voting tally last week. Most of it has been very positive – we’ve received lots of great feedback and everyone who has contacted us directly has been interested in helping us to distribute more information to their local community groups.

It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses, however. As someone who is relatively new to the ‘process’ of politics, I think the quick misinformation campaign that was launched against our group is interesting and worth sharing. It is worth talking about publically not just because we feel it is important to put the facts on record, but also because the ‘spin’ we’re seeing in this small example brings us right back to the very reason that AEN was formed in the first place.

Spin zinger one: Arizona Education Network members are “union shills”.

Fact: Well, for starters, none of our AEN board members, writers, researchers or speakers are (or have ever been) union members. We are not speaking for or representing any group other than our own…and we sure the heck aren’t getting paid or compensated in any way.

So why is this label being flung around? We think it is probably because nothing politicizes education in people’s mind like the word ‘union’, and that name-calling is sometimes an effective tool to detract from the real issues. And, yes, it could also have something to do with our rather uncreative choice for a group name (AEN is close to AEA, the teacher’s professional union in Arizona).

Spin Shot Number Two: AEN has ‘close ties’ to other education groups.

Fact: We are a relatively new group and are definitely working to form ‘close ties’ between parents, students and any of the existing groups that impact our schools. We have spoken to school superintendents, elected officials, teachers (union and non-union), private school leaders, business officials, faith-based organizations, and a number of individuals who are concerned about education but are not otherwise affiliated with an organized group.

Education reform and improvement will not occur in a vacuum. Our public schools are intrinsically linked with our individual communities, and it will truly take a collective effort to initiate state-wide improvements. We certainly do not believe that we have the answers to all of the issues facing our schools, and we are grateful for the opportunity to learn and collaborate with others.

Spin zinger three: We are a ‘front’ for a political party.

Fact: No, we aren’t. Our AEN members come from a wide variety of political backgrounds and our core team consists of several Republicans, a couple of Independents and a few Democrats. One of our co-founders worked for a Republican Governor, another was not even paying much attention to politics at all until just last year. We run the political gamut and probably could never come to a consensus about some of the singular ‘hot button’ issues….but we all are 100% unified in the belief that we need fact-based solutions to improve our public schools.

So why the accusation about the political party connections?

On the very same afternoon that we printed our voting record tally, a few politicians went into deflect mode and insinuated that our spokeswoman, Ann-Eve Pedersen, was some sort of party operative working on a partisan attack.

Their ‘evidence’? Ann-Eve’s deceased father was active with his local Democratic party 20 years ago. Her brother-in-law is also an active party member. Though she herself is not active in party politics, she has donated to Democratic candidates in the past.

What they left out – Her father’s widow is a lifelong Republican and a number of her other relatives are active in conservative causes, including a cousin who worked for James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. That’s just a start. We haven’t finished dissecting her family tree just yet in an attempt to discredit her own personal actions and beliefs , but I’m sure there is more ‘dirt’ here…rumors abound that her dog might have Marxist leanings.

What was also missed? Ann-Eve has been a dedicated, unpaid parent volunteer in our local schools for years. She is also just one member of our group, albeit the one brave enough to stick her neck out as a public speaker and to endure prodding into her family’s personal life. Our group is not defined by any one person’s political views, and we certainly do not represent, advocate for or wave the flag for any political party.

Which leads me back to the reason we formed AEN in the first place…

Ideology, spin and inflammatory rhetoric are no substitute for factual information.

The majority of Republican, Democrat and Independent-leaning families in our state send their children to public schools – support for education is not a partisan issue. As a group, we will continue to insist that our elected officials use factual information and adhere to their constitutional duties to our children, communities and our schools.

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